Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Terps can't handle success

According to coach Gary Williams the Terrapins collection of upperclassmen still doesn't know how to handle success. After winning an emotional and critical game against a very good Clemson squad on Saturday the players failed to show the same intensity and focus against a wounded and desperate Virginia squad last night. The focus on defensive rebounding and running efficient half court offense was gone from Saturday. That, coupled with a hot Virginia back court, resulted in a 103-91 loss that was actually worse than the final score would indicate.

After getting down by as many as 20 points in the first half Maryland clawed its way back into the game and escaped at the halftime buzzer with only a seven point deficit. That was mostly due to the scrappy play of freshman Greivis Vasquez who scored 8 points in about 30 seconds as the half drew to a close. The Terps would close to within 3 points two different times in the 2nd half but squandered the critical five minute stretch after closing the gap with Virginia. They trailed by double digits for most of the rest of the game and never got closer than eight points.

There were a slew of reasons why Maryland lost. At times it seemed the players thought they could just duplicate the formula that helped beat Clemson. Unfortunately they just outscored the Tigers and did a good enough job in defensive rebounding to pull out a win. Not a formula to win in the ACC. Virginia had enough success pushing the tempo to get some easy baskets in transition while being the latest opponent to trash Maryland on the offensive glass with 17 offensive rebounds. Virginia did make eight 3-point baskets but merely shot well enough, because without the incredible 39 points from free throws they would not have won the game. Maryland played poor position defense most of the night and failed to stop the efficient dribble penetrations of Sean Singletary and JR Reynolds. It wasn't bad calls or any home cooking by the referees, it was a continuation of the troubling trend of poor defense by the Terps.

Maryland has had a season long problem with giving up offensive rebounds. No surprise as everyone who reads this blog regularly is probably sick of reading about it. Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist are not great rebounders. They never have been and never will be. They are weak at positioning themselves for rebounds and are too easily pushed out of position by inferior players. However, guards also play a large roll in defensive rebounding and the guards for Maryland are failing miserably in this roll. All too often you'll see Mike Jones, Eric Hayes or even Greivis Vasquez flailing around under the basket as an opponent grabs the offensive rebound and scores. Hayes has responsibilities as the point guard usually so I'll give him a slight break for his dreadful 5.3% offensive rebounding rate, which is the worst by far of any regular point guard in the ACC. For comparison shrimpy Tyrese Rice has a 6.3% defensive rebound rate. Worse in my estimation is that at 6-5 with great strength senior Mike Jones is a virtual non-factor as a rebounder. Even Parrish Brown has a better rate of offensive rebounding than Jones. We'll get back to Jones in a bit.

The offense scored 91 points, including an incredible 36 points in the last 9:34 seconds of the game, but that was mostly a product of some lazy defense by Virginia with a large lead. In the critical first half Maryland's offense stalled. There were too many long scoring droughts with little ball movement. Too often the Terps would settle for the 2nd or 3rd look at the basket instead of working the ball around for a better shot. This quick trigger also set Virginia up with good scoring chances and made it impossible for Maryland to set up their defense. It was an atrocious and too often selfish display in the first half. If they don't work on this Maryland's opponents will know they only have to defend for about 10 seconds before the Terrapins will settle for a shot they could have at any time in the possession. They needs to be aggressive when the opportunity presents itself but then have the poise to work for the best scoring chance.

Maryland was forced to play zone in the second half, it was a mistake by Williams not to turn to it earlier, and acquitted themselves only slightly better. Williams did go to his bench early but there were no heroics by Will Bowers and Parrish Brown in this game. The duo combined for 5 points, 1 rebound and 6 fouls in 21 minutes after chipping in 14 points on Saturday. Bambale Osby had a rough first few minutes off the bench and got hooked despite almost outscoring Bowers and Brown combined with 4 points on 2-4 shooting. The substitution patterns baffle me sometimes.

DJ Strawberry didn't play like Maryland's leading scorer in the first half. He often passed up shots and deferred to less dynamic players before getting in foul trouble. Strawberry needs to assert himself more as a leader and offensive threat. He is the closest thing to a "creator" on offense for Maryland and has one of the lower turnover rates of any player on the team. Even though he shot very poorly in the game, going only 2-11, Terps need him to be more of a focus. If he doesn't take over those duties Maryland's NCAA chances will get weaker and weaker. James Gist is in a similar position. He disappears too often in games. After scoring 10 points in the first half he only took 2 shots the rest of the game and finished with 11 points in 28 minutes. He must do more for Maryland to dig itself out of a 1-3 hole.

Lastly let me get to some unpleasant business. A few years from now someone may look at the box score of this game and see that Mike Jones scored 18 points and that Ibekwe scored 17 with 14 rebounds and think they both played great games. Sadly the truth is nowhere near that conclusion.

Mike Jones seems like a nice kid who has kept out of trouble the last few seasons on a team full of kids that attracted all the wrong kind of attention. He's affable and took sitting behind unremarkable starters in stride with nary a complaint. He is also a terribly flawed player that doesn't seem to get anywhere near the scrutiny that he deserves. Far from being in Gary Williams' doghouse he played 32 minutes, a team high, against the Wahoos including almost all of the second half. His defense was absolutely wretched. If you're wondering how Virginia's Mamadi Diane was able to score 26 points when his season average was a shade over 10 points and had only scored in double digits twice in his last six games, you need only look at who was guarding him most of the night. Jones has never been a competent defender but it was embarrassing to watch him get abused by an ordinary sophomore like Diane. A particularly cringe worthy sequence in the second half had freshman Eric Hayes pointing the clueless senior to his position in the zone defense that Maryland had switched to and then seeing the ball swing to his wide open area for another Virginia 3-pointer. I won't belabor the point because I don't want to be gratuitous, but for those who see Mike Jones as the answer to Maryland's problems you have to recognize that trading 26 on the defensive end for 18 on the offensive end is a losing calculus. Gary Williams could do a better job of hiding Jones glaring flaws while trying to highlight his weaknesses but he was a large part of the loss to Virginia.

I'm not sure why Gary Williams continues to believe that Ekene Ibekwe is the kind of offensive player that you force your offense through. For the number of touches he gets in the post you'd think he was Maryland's answer to Tyler Hansbrough. It is the same story for Ibekwe that is was when he came to Maryland as an emaciated freshman. He is a terrible passer from the post and lacks the ability to score with his back to the basket. Think I'm being too harsh? Let's examine the numbers from Ken Pomeroy. His offensive efficiency rating and assist rating are the worst on the team out of the regular players. His turnover rate is also the third highest, behind only freshmen point guards Hayes and Vasquez, on the team. One of the few things Ibekwe does well is get to the free throw line but only a recent spurt of foul shooting has made his free throw percentage respectable, while still being the worst among the starting rotation. This is the player that Gary Williams wants to continually feed the ball to in the post? It is a strategic mistake last night and it will continue to kill Maryland if Williams insists on forcing the offense through such a flawed player. Leave Ibekwe to do what he is best at, being an opportunistic scorer off of rebounds and dribble penetrations by guards. Virginia's Jason Cain is a player that no one, not even Virginia fans, appreciates yet in spite of having no offense run to him he manages to scrape out 13 points and 16 rebounds by shear hustle. Hopefully Ibekwe took notes because Cain got those numbers right under his nose.


Anonymous said...

With a probable road loss at VaTech, two games left against Duke, a probable home loss to UNC, and a probable defeat at Clemson, and at least another road loss somewhere like FSU or NC State or UVA or Ga Tech at home, it is looking like it will be a losing season in the ACC and another NIT. The loss to Miami will prove to be the dagger. They had to win that game. The team has very little basketball IQ. Also, the full-court pressure defense doesn't work against ACC teams like it does on the cupcakes. It is the same old, same old.

Esquire said...

Sitting at 1-4 with a loss on Sunday would make them look more like an NIT team, if just by the numbers. I'm not sure this year if two games against Duke should scare anyone but I do agree that remaining games against UNC and Clemson are likely losses. That would put the team at six losses for the season and little margin for error. I doubt this team has the toughness to put together an 8-3 finish but you never know. Their schedule in the second half of the season is very favorable but making the tournament would require a consistency this team hasn't had in three seasons. Let's just hope they don't unravel if they lose on Sunday like their predecessors did the last few seasons. The last two seasons the Terps are 7-9 in the second half of the ACC schedule.

I wouldn't be surprised if Maryland needs to win a few games in the ACC tournament to get a NCAA bid.

They need to pick up a few road games and this weekend would be a good place to start.

I would agree that right now it doesn't look good.